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Rumstick Point Marker   Leave a comment

The Rumstick Point marker as it appeared in 2008.

The Rumstick Point marker as it appeared in 2008.

A sedentary stone gathers some paint.
Corner of Rumstick and Chachapacassett Roads, Barrington

A large stone, part of a wall at the corner of Rumstick and Chachapacassett Roads, is adorned with a crude depiction of a pair of Indians kneeling beside a barrel, out of which jut two sticks. At center top are the words “Rumstick Point.” This curious artifact dates from around 1880 when Abbie Fessenden, who lived at nearby 153 Rumstick Road, painted it.

Chachapacassett Road delineates the northern edge of Rumstick Neck. Chachapacasset was the Wampanoag name for the area that includes Adams and Rumstick Points. It means, according to Thomas W. Bicknell in his History of Barrington (1898), “At or near the great widening.” Called Little Neck by early white settlers, it was first referred to as “Rumstick” in land records in 1698.

So where did the name Rumstick come from, and how does the image on the rock relate? Bicknell offered several different possibilities on the origin of the name.

First, he reported that a Brown University professor, Adrian Scott, had suggested a Norse, or otherwise northern European, origin:

Rumstokkr in old Norse was a bed-post, but in Provincial English there was a word, Ruinstich, adapted from the German language, or possibly the Dutch, and meaning the same as Mawe, i.e., an old-fashioned game of cards. The point might have had a famous game upon it by the first crew of sailors that bethought themselves to name it.

Bicknell noted that Providence bookseller and prolific amateur historian Sidney S. Rider also favored a Norse explanation, as did Norse scholars (no surprise), while he (Bicknell) had an entirely different idea:

But I should think this far more likely than either of the above, that the long slender point suggested the stick with which ancient sea captains stirred their toddy (differing from the common sailor’s grog, inasmuch as it was made of rum sweetened, and so needed stirring): hence English RUM-STICK.

Why Bicknell likes this explanation so much is hard to understand, as the neck of land in no way resembles a stick. But no matter. Having disposed of the “scholarly” theories, Bicknell went on to relate a pair of stories handed down over the generations:

Tradition tries to solve the mystery of so curious and equivocal a title, by saying that a barrel of rum floated high and dry upon the beach, and the treasure was considered of such great value that the event was celebrated by so free a distribution of the contents that the term high and dry could be truthfully applied for several days to all the dwellers thereabouts.

Another story goes, that while the Indians were removing the aforesaid treasure of “strong water,” for which they had a most wonderful liking, the hoops broke, the barrel burst, and the spirits of rum sank into the sand, while the Indians’ spirits sank within them, and in sad disappointment over their loss, they lifted up the mournful lamentation: “Rum stick here! Rum stick here!

This last, however little sense it makes, and notwithstanding how insulting it is to the character and intelligence of the native Wampanoag Indians, would seem to be the one that caught the imagination of Abbie Fessenden.

It should be noted as entirely coincidental that Barrington’s shores and inlets, possibly including Rumstick Point, played a part as landing places for rum runners during Prohibition.

The Rumstick Point marker has been repainted over the years by various public spirited individuals, so that we may continue to enjoy and wonder about it today.

The marker in 2014, in need of a touch-up.

The marker in 2014, in need of a touch-up.

While you’re on the Point, take a walk back along Chachapacassett Road, only a few dozen yards from the Rumstick Point marker, to find a boulder with a plaque marking the site of a spring that was known to be important to the Wampanoag Indians living in the area. The plaque calls it Massasoit Spring, after the Wampanoag sachem, but it’s probably the same “noted spring called Scamscammuck Spring” located “at the upper end of this neck” mentioned in Bicknell’s History of Barrington. A similar plaque marking the location of another “Massasoit Spring” can be found across the Warren River on Warren’s Baker Street.

Massasoit Spring plaque, as photographed in 2002 (left) and 2008 (right).

Massasoit Spring plaque, as photographed in 2002 (left) and 2008 (right).

As you drive back out along Rumstick Road, keep an eye out for number 66. Built in 1888, it’s known as the Fred F. Church House. But it was also the childhood home of the late monologist Spalding Gray. Gray moved from Rhode Island in the mid-1960s, and some of his earliest performance pieces were based on his memories growing up in the Ocean State. Known collectively as “Three Places In Rhode Island,” they include “Sakonnet Point” (1975), “Rumstick Road” (1977), “Nayatt School” (1978), and “Point Judith (an epilog)” (1979).

Fred F. Church House in 2006.

Fred F. Church House in 2006.

Our website architect, Dan Hillman, also lived on Rumstick Road from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, and lost a series of pet cats on that street. Imagine his surprise upon reading Gray’s memoirs of having also lost multiple cats to the crushing tires of speeding vehicles in the ’40s and ’50s. The Grays are long gone, but the house is still a private residence, so please be content to gaze in pleasure as you cruise past. And please be mindful of any perambulating cats.

If that isn’t enough to fulfill your local celebrity and morbidity quotients, double back to Nyatt Road and slink by the house at 1 Jones Circle. It’s the former home of Christopher Hightower, who, in 1991, brutally murdered the Brendel family—Ernest, Alice, and eight-year-old Emily. The story was featured in an episode of A'E’s City Confidential in 2005. Again, private residence; don’t be a douche.

There are a couple of notable architectural anomalies to be seen on the Point. One is the stone water tower at 3 Stone Tower Lane, looking somewhat out of place in an otherwise suburban (if upscale) neighborhood. The adjacent house is a renovated barn. Both are a reminder of Howard P. Cornell’s “massive summer estate,” Stone Tower Farm, where he resided circa 1875 to the 1920s. The farmhouse burned down in the early 1900s, but another barn and the chicken coop, both renovated into dwellings in the 1950s, still stand at 6 and 14 Stone Tower Lane, respectively.

Stone Tower (left), windmill-ish tower (right), both photographed in 2010.

Stone Tower (left), windmill-ish tower (right), both photographed in 2010.

Another is the tower at the corner of Chachapacasset Road and Lorraine Street. This one looks like a windmill without sails, and given the area’s former rural nature, perhaps a windmill is what it once was.

Information

Cost: Free

Time required: Assuming an average lifespan of 78.7 years, it will only take approximately 1/41,392,186th of your life.

Hours: You may gaze upon the Rumstick Point marker twenty-four hours a day, but we wouldn’t advise lingering suspiciously.

Finding it: Coming from Providence, take exit 7 from Route 195. Merge onto Route 114 South (Wampanoag Trail) toward Barrington. After about 6.9 miles turn right onto Rumstick Road. Go another 8/10ths of a mile and turn right on Chachapacassett Road. The next left is Rumstick Road again. The marker is in the stone wall on the inside corner of the turn.

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